The world is on standby on climate change, says expert

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The willingness to tackle climate change that had started with the Paris deal has been disappearing, according to an expert on
environmental and climate change policies.

“[U.S. President Donald] Trump’s position pushed others to be more hesitant,” says Semra Cerit Mazlum of Marmara University’s Department of Political Science and International Relations.

“States are on standby position. Everyone is waiting to see whether Trump will be reelected or not,” she added.

Let’s start with a short evaluation of Madrid. The general view is that Madrid was a failure.

It was unsuccessful, but we can still look at it as a gain from loss. It was better to have no decision than having a decision based on the least common denominator, which could have created negative consequences for climate change.

The fact that there was no deal gives hope that next year there could be better conditions for decisions more in line with the Paris agreement reached in 2016.

In general, we are faced by a very negative situation as the gap is getting bigger between the requisites of the Paris deal and what is being done in reality.

You have been participating in these meetings since 2009. Do you think the trend is getting worse in terms of taking action?

There is an awareness all over the world on levels unseen before. The states are also aware that they have to take measures. But there is discrepancy between the need and the will to take action.

Even if the Paris conference did not provide a framework that met the expectations, at least it had secured a sense of multilateralism. It provided a roadmap on how to continue international cooperation based on a set of rules. Today, there is a risk of falling behind that framework.

Why have we come to this stage? Is it the election of Donald Trump who pulled the United States out from the Paris deal?

Trump’s election is one factor but not the only one. All over the world, oppressive right-wing parties have come to the power. Problems like climate change require multilateral cooperation, but multilateralism is at risk.

Can we say that the spirit of Paris is weakening?

We do not see the willingness that had started with Paris. Trump’s position pushed others to be more hesitant. States are on standby position. Everyone is waiting to see whether Trump will be reelected or not.

Meanwhile, Turkey has not changed its demand to change its status and to refuse to adopt the Paris agreement until this demand is met.

Turkey was qualified as a developed country when the first climate convention was signed in 1992. The fact that Turkey is listed on Annex 1 bars Turkey’s access to climate financing. Its demand to get out of Annex 1 did not receive support in Madrid and met the objection of developing countries.

Turkey portrays itself as a regional actor with global aspirations, but to say that “I am not rich enough to take climate action,” must sound contradictory.

Actually, Turkey does not base its demand to change its status on its economic situation. Turkey is an emission intensive economy, and it has a huge mitigation potential. But it says, “I need financing.”

So, Turkey says, “I can reduce my carbon emissions much faster if I find the money.”

Exactly. Turkey wants to benefit from climate financing mechanisms. Being in Annex 1 prevents Turkey from having direct access to these mechanisms but also creates other difficulties. International development agencies prepare projects in order to benefit from green climate funds.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), for instance, prepares a project for our region. It includes Turkey, as well, but the application is turned down as EBRD is asked to exclude Turkey, because Turkey is not eligible.

Currently Turkey says, “I want to get out of Annex 1 not so much to have direct access to climate funds, but my status is now becoming an obstacle in front of financing that can come from other channels.”

And there is another risk that Turkish public officials have been mulling recently: Turkey is currently one of the countries that benefit the highest from climate finance channels that are outside of the Paris mechanisms, like financing provided by the World Bank, for instance.

But these institutions are using the public funds of the developed countries which in the near future might ask international agencies to channel these funds more towards developing countries.

It looks like Turkey’s demand to get out of Annex 1 will never be met.

There is no sign to think otherwise. The problem is this: remaining so much focused on changing the status slows downs action domestically on climate policy. Whether it is party to Paris deal or not, Turkey needs to take measures against global warming.

The negative consequences of global warming make itself feel increasingly. Don’t they have any effect on policy change?

In terms of rhetoric, we see an increasing number of decision makers at all levels talk about the risks of climate change. The environment minister defined it as a national security problem. But there is discrepancy between rhetoric and action.

Turkey’s last development plan is very weak in terms of climate policy.

But there is an aggressive policy to invest in renewable energy.

This is rather the result of the policy on the security of energy supply than climate policy.

Can we say that Trump’s presence has helped Turkey’s international standing?

Yes, but only indirectly. After all, from the beginning, Turkey has said it wants to be in the international climate regime. There is no change in Turkey’s rhetoric that it wants to remain within the international cooperation framework. The most positive aspect of Turkish climate policy is that Turkey has never been a denialist.

How sustainable is Turkey’s policy?

International conditions might push Turkey to adopt the Paris agreement. The European Union’s new green deal has the potential to change Turkey’s stance. The European Commission can levy an additional carbon tax if its trading partners do not act in accordance with global climate policies.

Some sectors are exiting Europe to avoid its rigid climate regime, like cement or textile. These sectors are very strong in Turkey, and in the long run, there is a risk that the EU might put additional carbon taxes for these sectors.

In addition, the climate issue will affect the bilateral trade agreements which the EU will conclude with other parties. That was the case in the trade agreement with Canada and Japan.

Turkey wants to upgrade the Customs Union with the EU. The EU might opt to update the Customs Union by including commitments on climate policies.

So, the EU can say, “I will not upgrade the Customs Union unless Turkey adopts the Paris treaty.”

This is a possibility, not that it is currently on the agenda, but these are the risks. These risks are not limited to Turkey’s relations with its trade partners. Global finance agencies have announced new decisions that they will look at whether countries are taking the necessary climate steps before granting credits. They are taking decisions to refuse financing to high emission sectors. In the long run, this could risk Turkish public and private institutions’ access to international financing.

*Who is Semra Cerit Mazlum?

Born in Aydın in 1971, Semra Cerit Mazlum is a professor at Marmara University’s
Department of Political Science and International Relations.

Professor Semra Cerit Mazlum received her PhD in urban and environmental studies from Ankara University in 2000. She has published work on Turkey’s policies on environmental and climate change, international climate politics, sustainable development and environmental NGOs.

Mazlum is the co-editor of the book “International Environmental Regimes,“ published in 2017 as well as “Civil Society and Foreign Policy” published in 2006. She is also the editor of the “Post-2012 Climate Change Negotiations Guidebook,” published in 2009.

Professor Semra Cerit Mazlum teaches global environmental politics in Marmara University as well as Bilgi University.

Hurriyet Daily News

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